Instagram update brings new features, filters, UI

Unfortunately, the interface has taken a turn for the worse, and the new Lux feature makes some pictures look like mud.

Instagram's new Lux feature might benefit some photos, but don't be surprised if it makes others look worse.

Love Instagram? Everybody's favorite photo-tuning app just got a little better--and more than a little worse.

The first thing you'll notice in version 2.1, which hit the App Store last Friday, is the interface: it's a bit prettier, but gone are the text labels identifying each of the five main buttons.

This wouldn't be a huge deal except that the buttons themselves have changed. In place of Feed, there's now a Home icon. Popular has given way to a star, and News is now a heart inside a speech bubble. Huh?

Result: novice and veteran users alike are likely to be confused until they discover what each button does. (I always equate a star with "favorites," not "popular.") It's not that Instagram is tough to use, but I think the developers have made it tougher to learn.

Instagram's "improved" interface lacks text labels for its navigation icons.
Instagram's "improved" interface lacks text labels for its navigation icons. Instagram

Instagram's new Lux feature promises to make your photos "more vibrant and [bring] out details you couldn't see before," which to me sounds a lot like HDR processing. To apply it, you just tap the little starburst icon below your selected photo.

I tested Lux with a handful of photos, and I have to say, several of them ended up looking terrible. The filter seems to heavily boost contrast, darkening some areas and overexposing others. A few shots benefited from the effect, but most did not. Fortunately, Lux is a toggle; you can tap it again to undo the changes. And because it's separate from all the other filters, you can apply it after choosing one.

Speaking of filters, Instagram 2.1 adds a new one: Sierra. It creates a kind of washed-out look that's brighter in the middle and darker around the edges. Meh.

There's one other update in this version: when you tap an Instagram notification in the Notification Center, you're taken directly to the relevant photo, comment, or user profile page.

In case it isn't already obvious, I'm fairly disappointed by this update. Instagram's interface was already kind of a mess, and now it's just more convoluted. As for Lux, well, I think it kinda sux.

As always, I'm eager to hear your opinions in the comments.